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How to Find Free Music

In the words of Neal Stephenson, the world is full of power and energy and a person can go far by just skimming off a tiny bit of it.

The same can be said for music. As you could probably tell, we live in a very special time. The global rate of population growth is exponential, as is the rate of internet subscription and computer ownership. As is the rate of processing speed and data storage. 

More people means more culture. More computers means more opportunities to record that culture digitally. More network connectivity means these records are available. More data storage means these records will be around for a long time.

Basically this implies that the amount of data available to you is also growing exponentially. At our disposal is so much culture, and hence so much music. All you have to do is throw yourself into the internet and take your pick.

But how exactly do you “throw yourself” in? Here the metaphor breaks down, and what I really mean to say is “pick a site and start clicking links.” Which site you start at will decide how successful you will be at finding good music. 

Hey, you’re on a site right now. My blog. This is your starting point.

Below are a bunch of links and methods for finding free, or at least free-to-listen music. In some ways finding music can be a chore, since you have to really search for something to find it, especially if it’s obscure. But often the payout is rewarding to both your ears and your wallet.

Be advised a lot of these are electronic.

The Internet Archive’s Netlabel Collection

Hopefully you’ve heard of the internet archive. It’s a website dedicated to taking snapshots of websites to combat link rot. They also host what’s called “community audio.” As you can imagine these guys have TONNES of disk space. And they’re giving it away.

A netlabel (keyword alert) is an online record label that’s usually sustained by donations, and releases their music for free. The internet archive plays host to a few hundred of such labels.

You can use this directory as a trailhead for further adventures. Of the many netlables on the list here are a few of my favourites:

Playing around with the search tool will probably yield good results

Bandcamp’s Search Functionality

You’ve probably heard of bandcamp before. They host plenty of free to download and name your price albums and artists. All you have to do is search.

But what do you search? Most of the search context on this site comes from what people tag their music as. Tags can vary from descriptive to tangential. Here’s a list of common tags that people use:

Here’s bandcamp’s own tagcloud, separated in the same way as above

Bandcamp also hosts plenty of indie record labels, so chances are if you find an album you like then the other albums published by the same account will be up your alley as well. Although a lot of them aren’t free to download, you can still listen to their records as much as you want.

Here’s a list of my favourite bandcamp lables. All of these are free to listen but not all are free to own:

Among the labels are people who publish their own work themselves. Here are some of my fave self-publishers:

Various Other Netlabels:

Although a lot of netlabels are hosted on either the internet archive or bandcamp, there are still plenty of hidden ones that host their own music online. Here are several as well as how I found them:

Internet Radio:

Listening to the radio, be it local, satellite or internet, almost always introduces you to new music. In the case of local radio, the music you hear is either top 40 (very not free, but hella easy to pirate, so if you like it you’re in luck) or sometimes they host local bands. 

Satellite radio, like Sirius/XM, will definitely blow your mind if you’ve only listened to local radio your whole life. It’s like upgrading from cable TV to, well, satellite TV. There are hundreds of stations, sometimes multiple for a single genre.

Unfortunately it’s not free at all. What is free, however, is internet radio. Which is like upgrading from cable TV to youtube. And it’s almost always completely free! Well, aside from stations that require money for a higher bit-rate stream.

Most desktop music players these days have a built-in internet radio listening system. I haven’t used iTunes in a long time, but it was there when I used it. You might have to do some searching to find out how to enable it.

Here are a few of my favourite internet radio stations:

Although there’s no fool-proof way of recording the music played on the stations (since most employ cross-fading) they do show you the title and author of the currently playing track, so you can look it up and buy/download it later.

Asking Friends:

Now this is definitely the most fruitful of the lot. Most of the time your friends really don’t care about the record industry and will share their libraries with you given a large enough USB drive. 

Because my library is fiendishly large, I’m often the one who’s giving the music. I actually have a friend who’s library is now >50% music from me. If you’re lucky, you have a friend who’s like me. If you yourself are like me, share your music!!! It’s rewarding to both parties involved. But remember, there’s always something to be gained from even the smallest of libraries.

Anyway, that’s all I can think of for now. Happy hunting!

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